Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1374, (21 December 2017 - 3 January 2018)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1374, (21 December 2017 - 3 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Death of an icon

Obituaries: 2017




Nehad Selaiha

On 6 January, the Egyptian culture scene lost one its highest pillars, Nehad Selaiha, a woman who holds a unique place in the world of theatre and among generations of theatre practitioners. She’s a bilingual scholar, translator, historian, writer and critic — her English reviews of Arab productions gave the pages of Al-Ahram Weekly an indispensable depth and value for years on end. Her multidisciplinary approach to theatre is demonstrated in dozens of books she authored or contributed to, articles she wrote and prestigious seminars and juries she led or participated in.

Born in 1945, she studied English literature at Cairo University, obtaining her MA from the University of Sussex, UK, in 1969, but she stayed close to theatrical circles partly through her fiancé (and later her husband) Mohamed Enani, who at the time co-edited Theatre magazine; Enani was to become not only the renowned translator of Shakespeare, Byron and Pinter to Arabic but also a major scholar, writer and critic who translated Arabic literature to English as well.

In the mid-1970s she briefly taught Shakespearean drama at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but by the late 1970s she was already teaching criticism and drama at the High Institute for Art Criticism — the position through which many of us first became aware of her — moving in and out of Egypt while she earned her PhD in drama from the University of Exeter, UK, in 1982. Finally settling in Egypt in 1984, she was offered tenure at the institute, of which she became dean in 2001-2003.

Selaiha had a strong belief in independent troupes, which to her were the platform for truly free creative expression and boundless experimentation. In 1990, when the dynamics of independent theatre changed, she was a main character in the drama. In her comprehensive article “25 years of independence”, published in Al-Ahram Weekly’s issue of 14 April 2016, she wraps up that moment: “On 23 August 1990, a group of theatre artists, critics and activists met at the Acting Professions Union in downtown Cairo to protest the decision of the Ministry of Culture to cancel that year’s edition of the Cairo Experimental Theatre Festival due in September on account of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In this historic meeting the idea of the independent theatre movement as a ‘third way’ (to borrow Eugenio Barba’s phrase), or alternative to both the state and commercial theatres was born.”

In Egypt, Selaiha received recognition from the Cairo International Experimental Theatre Festival (1996), the State Award for Superior Achievement in Literary Studies (2003), the State Appreciation Award for Arts (2013). Many publications wrote about Selaiha, while the 2 January 2017 edition of Masrahna (Our Theatre) magazine dedicated its issue to her. Her contribution to the cultural field had, after all, been extended through her membership of the High Committee for the Theatre at the Supreme Council of Culture, and at the Drama Committee of the Production Department for Radio and Television. She was also at the board of directors at the Roberto Cimetta Fund to Support Young Theater Artists in the Euro-Med Region.


Karima Mokhtar

An unforgettable mother figure in Egyptian cinema, Karima Mokhtar was known for her role Mama Nona with Yehia Al-Fakharani in the Ramadan TV series Yetraba Fi Ezzo (May he be Raised in Prosperity) where she played the role of a mother who spoils her son hugely. Mokhtar died at the age of 82 leaving behind a huge number of films, TV series and plays.

She was born in 1934 in Assiut and started her career with the children’s radio show Baba Sharou. She made her first appearance in the film Thaman Al-Horriya (The Price of Freedom, 1967), directed by Nour Al-Demerdash. Later she acted in such films as in Atef Salem’s Al-Hafid (The Grandchild, 1974), opposite Abdel-Moneim Madbouli and Omar Abdel-Aziz’s Yarab Walad (God, I Want a Boy, 1984), opposite Farid Shawki. Her imprint on Egyptian theatre was made with Al-Eyal Kebret (The Children Have Grown Up, 1979), in which she played the hapless wife and mother Zeinab.


Youssef Al-Sharouni

Fiction writer, critic and translator Youssef Al-Sharouni passed away at the age of 93. Born in 1924, Al-Sharouni published his first collection of short stories, The Five Lovers, in 1954; the book, according to his daughter, was to remain the closest to his heart. Although he started his career as a French teacher, having studied philosophy and psychology at Cairo University, according to his brother Yaqoub — a children’s writer credited with being the first to introduce the social novel to children’s literature — Youssef rebelled against the staid conventions of teaching due to his commitment to social transformation, which along with the love of literature he instilled in his brother.

In 1942, after a lecture in which “dangerous things” were said, Youssef and his colleagues were arrested on charges of overthrowing the regime; he was jailed until the court exonerated him a few months later and returned to a hero’s welcome, already “a leader in politics”: “In prison he read many books, listened to many talks and thought a lot about the meaning of freedom, justice and resistance”, themes that were to manifest in the unequivocally feminist bent of Al-Sharouni’s second collection of short stories, Message to a Woman.

Al-Sharouni is survived by a daughter, Shaden and a son, Sherif. Shaden (a carefully chosen Arabic word meaning “young deer”) says her father was a workaholic and a serious man. In his last days, he felt the cultural atmosphere in Egypt was deteriorating; neither young people nor critics were reading. Al-Sharouni wrote eight collections of short stories, one novel and 20 books of criticism; he won the State Incentive and State Merit awards as well as the Sultan Al-Uwais Prize.


Sayed Hegab

The Poet of the Poor passed away at the age of 77. One of Egypt’s most prominent vernacular poets, Sayed Hegab was born on 23 September 1940 in Daqahleya. His hometown, Matareya, is a coastal village overlooking Lake Manzala, and he grew up among fishermen, something that — as he explained during one of his later radio shows — inspired him to write vernacular poetry as he listened to the songs and tales of the fishermen. It was in Matareya that Hegab’s poetic talent started to mature.

Hegab studied architecture in Alexandria for two years, but discontinued his studies because of his interest in culture and arts. He moved to Cairo to study engineering, but by then he had taken his first steps in the world of poetry and managed to publish some of his writings. Engineering stood in the way of his passion for poetry.

Hegab’s first “knock on the gate of life”, to borrow the first sentence of his series Bawabet Al-Halawani (Al-Halawani’s Gate), was in 1964 when he published his first collection of poems Al-Sayyad wal-Geneya (The Fisherman and the Fairy). This reveals many details about Hegab’s childhood in Matareya and the tales he heard from fishermen as a child that were full of the magic of the sea.

He published at least 11 collections of poems and co-hosted the radio show Baad Al-Tahiya wal-Salam (After Salutations) with poet Abdel-Rahman Al-Abnoudi and hosted the shows Amar ya Masr (Your Welfare, Egypt) and Orchestra.

He also wrote songs for leading singers like Mohamed Mounir, Ali Al-Haggar and Samira Said. He wrote a children’s song with music by Ammar Al-Sherei that was later made famous by singer Afaf Radi. However, one of Hegab’s most successful ventures at this time was writing the words for theme songs for television series that were memorised by Egyptian viewers for decades to come.

In 1987, and in collaboration with composer Michel Al-Masri and singer Mohamed Al-Helw, Hegab wrote the theme for one of the most successful drama series in Egyptian television history, Layali Al-Helmeya (Al-Helmeya Nights), directed by Ismail Abdel-Hafez and scripted by Osama Anwar Okasha. This ran for five seasons until 1995, during which its theme music was known by all television viewers. A sixth series was produced last year with Hegab’s original song.

Theme songs written by Hegab are rich in poetic imagery, combining the sensory and the figurative. But this was not the only reason he earned a special place in the hearts of all Egyptians. His songs conveyed his deep concern for the people and their well-being, especially of the poorer classes. It was for this reason that he received the title of the “Poet of the Poor”.

He belonged to a generation who saw the dream of Egypt becoming a developed country and the leader of the Middle East almost coming true. His dreams were crushed in 1967 when Egypt was attacked by the Israeli military machine. In the 1970s and 1980s, Hegab and his generation witnessed the cultural, intellectual and social collapse that had befallen the country. They saw political corruption reach its peak until the eruption of the 25 January Revolution in 2011. They watched as the Muslim Brotherhood and those obsessed with political Islam reached the height of their power, only to fall at the hands of a popular uprising during the 30 June Revolution.

In June 2013, Hegab demonstrated against the then Muslim Brotherhood minister of culture, Alaa Abdel-Aziz, in a protest organised by intellectuals outside the minister’s offices in Cairo. The protest lasted for at least a month until Egyptians in their millions took to the streets to end the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood organisation. After the overthrow of the Brotherhood in 2013, he was a member of the Committee of Fifty charged with drafting the 2014 constitution. He wrote an eloquent and graceful preamble to the constitution, leaving an indelible mark on the chronicles of modern Egypt and its long literary and patriotic history.




Mohamed Kamel Al-Qalioubi

Al-Qalioubi is an Egyptian director and scriptwriter who was born in 1943. He studied engineering at Ain Shams University and graduated in 1969, then his passion for cinema led him to the Higher Cinema Institute where he concluded his PhD in directing and scriptwriting in the early 70s and travelled to Moscow where to earn a PhD in arts philosophy. He was the director of the Egyptian Film Centre (1999-2001).

His graduation project was the film Tale of What Happened in the City of Yes in 1975, which dealt with the challenges and dreams of his generation towards the manifestation of the basics of freedom and democracy and equality.

He made five feature films: Thalatha Ala Al-Tarik (Three on the Road, 1993), Al-Bahr Biedhak Leih? (Why Does the Sea Laugh? 1994), Ahlam Masroka (Stolen Dreams, 1999), Etfarag Ya Salam (Oh Watch This, 2001) and Kharif Adam (Adam’s Autumn, 2002). He was posthumously honoured at the Cairo International Film Festival in its 39th round.




Samir Farid

With a grief that filled the film community, senior film critic Samir Farid died last April at the age of 73 after a long struggle with cancer. He was born in 1943 in Cairo and studied criticism at the Theatre Institute, graduating in 1963. He joined the Al-Ahram team under editor-in-chief Mohamed Hassanein Heikal who offered Farid the job. He left Al-Ahram and joined the more progressive Al-Gomhoureya where he was appointed in 1965 among other intellectuals at the time; Taha Hussein, Mohamed Mandour and Louis Awad.  

He founded the magazine Al-Cinema wal-Fonoun in 1977 which was discontinued after 35 issues following a decision by Al-Ahram’s editor-in-chief Youssef Al-Sibaai. Farid’s contribution to the Arabic film criticism was rather a research project on the Egyptian neorealism of the early 1980s contemplating the work of young directors Atef Al-Tayeb, Mohamed Khan, Raafat Al-Mihi, Dawoud Abdel-Sayed and Khairi Bishara. Farid wrote more than 50 books of criticism, some of which focus on Egyptian and Arab cinema while others discuss the history of cinema around the world.

Farid supported freedom of expression throughout his career and he often refers to political issues in his film criticism. He was one of the founders of the National Film Festival in Egypt and he was the artistic director of the Cairo International Film Festival in 1985; he later headed the festival for one extremely memorable round. Farid modified the programme and employed a new generation of young film people, instituting fringe activities and new sections including a Critics Week and a Cinema of Tomorrow section. His proved to be the festival’s most successful round, attended by a huge audience eager to see a fine selection — so much so that this round is still known as “Samir Farid’s”.

Farid was honoured by the Cannes and Venice film festivals, and last January he was granted the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Camera in appreciation of his services to the industry. It was remarkable how many younger filmmakers Farid was connected with, who regarded him as a mentor and role model.




Mahfouz Abdel-Rahman

Screenwriter Mahfouz Abdel-Rahman died at the age of 76, having had a stroke two weeks before. Abdel-Rahman graduated from Cairo University in 1960, but started his writing career years before his graduation. He worked in Dar Al-Hilal, wrote short stories and art criticism for Al-Ahram and Al-Gomhoureya and worked at the Ministry of Culture. His first short story collection, Al-Bahth Aan Al-Maghoul (Searching for the Unknown) appeared in 1967, while his first novel, Al-Youm Al-Thamen (The Eighth Day) appeared in 1972.

Abdel-Rahman worked for Kuwaiti television (1974-1978), resigning from the Ministry of Culture in 1982 to devote himself to writing.

His television debut was the series Al-Awda Ila Al-Manfa (Returning to Exile, 1971), based on a novel by Abul-Maati Abul-Naga. It was followed, among many others, by Suleiman Al-Halabi, Antara, Mohamed Al-Fatih, Leilet Masraa Al-Mutanabi (The Death Night of Al-Mutanabi), Sinbad and the huge hit Bawabet Al-Halawani (1992), directed by Ibrahim Al-Sahn. He also wrote Um Kolthoum (1999), directed by Inaam Mohamed Ali.

Abdel-Rahman wrote films — Al-Qadisiyah, Halim and Nasser 56 — as well as plays: Kawkab Al-Firan (The Planet of the Mice), Al-Fakh (The Trap), Mohakamat Al-Sayed Meem (The Trail of Mr M) and he was married to actress Samira Abdel-Aziz.





With great sorrow Egypt has been mourning the iconic actress and singer Shadia who died in November following a stroke. Her real name was Fatma Ahmed Kamal Shaker, but she is better known by the stage name filmmaker Helmi Rafla gave her.

Shadia made her first appearance in the film Al-Aql fi Agaza (The Mind Is on Vacation), and her days of glory were in the 1950s and 1960s. She worked with a huge number of film directors and acted in different genres of cinema during which time she also shone as a delightful singer, often performing songs in the course of her film roles on screen. She performed opposite Kamal Al-Shinnawi, Farid Al-Atrash, Abdel-Halim Hafez and — in the unforgettable comedy Al-Zoga Raqam 13 (Wife Number 13), directed by Fatin Abdel-Wahab in 1962 — Roushdi Abaza.

Among her most popular roles was that of Fouada, an Upper Egyptian girl who is forced to marry the village strongman in Shaie Min Al-Khawf (A Taste of Fear, 1969), based on Tharwat Abaza’s political allegory, adapted for the screen by screenwriter Sabri Ezzat.

Shadia’s moving patriotic song Ya Habibti Ya Masr (Egypt, My Love) has long had a place in all Egyptian football matches for decades. The song was written by Mohamed Hamza and composed by Baligh Hamdi in 1970; it was a gesture of rebellion against the atmosphere of despair reigning since the 1967 defeat. Not only were most of her films blockbusters, many also had a progressive message hidden within their story lines. In Fatin Abdel-Wahab’s social comedy Merati Mudir Aam (My Wife Is a General Manager, 1966), Shadia played the role of a decent wife who by coincidence was appointed general manager at the construction company in which her husband headed the architecture department. The irony this situation generates could be interpreted as sexist, but the film ends on a very progressive note as the husband bows to his wife’s ability to lead a company.

In 1983 Shadia made an unforgettable appearance on stage for the first and the last time in Raya wi Sakina (Raya and Sakina) starring opposite the theatre icon Abdel-Moneim Madbouli and Soheir Al-Babli. Although a real-life horror story, this theatrical adaptation of the tale of the two woman murderers was a comedy; and the contradiction between the two genres, the outstanding performance of Shadia with the other superstars and the stage direction by Hussein Kamal made it one of the classics.

Shadia performed in more than 100 films before her retirement in the early 1980s. She was one of the most popular and remarkable actresses and singers in the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema, known for her humour and spontaneity.




Mekkawi Said

At the start of December, the literary community lost one of its more popular figure, the novelist, screenwriter, publisher and chronicler of downtown Cairo Mekkawi Said.

Born in Cairo on 6 July 1956, Said graduated from the Faculty of Commerce at Cairo University, where he was culturally active — notably as a vernacular poet — and influential in student literary circles; he would later mention the great free verse pioneer Salah Abdel-Sabour as an early influence. On graduating he began to publish the short stories he would later collect in Al-Rakd Wara Al-Daw (Running after the Light, 1981), his first book. It was then that Said began to turn into a regular presence on the downtown café scene. Among his friends was the Upper Egyptian short story writer Yehia Al-Taher Abdallah — a complete unknown at this point — and Said was instrumental in spreading the word about his phenomenal talent. They were fast friends, and when Abdallah died in a car accident Said withdrew from literary life, grieving in isolation.

Said’s novels include Firan Al-Safina (Ship Rats), which won the Suad Al-Sabbah Arab Creativity Prize in 1991, and the monumental An Tuhibbuka Jihan (For Jihan to Love You, 2015), his last, as well as the Arabic Booker-shortlisted Cairo Swan Song (2008), a powerful meditation on downtown living that soon became his best-known work. Said also wrote a non-fiction book on downtown Cairo, Downtown’s Collectibles (2010), a record of the January Revolution, On Tahrir Square and its Manifestations (2013), five collections of short stories and a number of other books.

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